Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
As I look out at you this morning I am amazed. I am amazed that you are here…not just here at church, but that you here at all. You are a miracle. You are beyond the possibility of random chance.
I am reading a book called the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It is pretty interesting. In it there is a chapter titled The Tree Lottery, which explains that every five years a Beechnut tree spawns 30,000 seeds, and so if a Beechnut lives the full extent of its life, to the ripe old age of 400, it will have shed 1,800,000 seeds. Of all of those seeds, over all that time, only one will grow into a tree.
Those are lotto odds. Which if you were a Poplar you’d take in a heartbeat, because over the life of a Poplar about a billion seeds will be cast off, and only one will grow into a tree
As I look at you I’m reminded of a line from A Wrinkle In Time, where Mrs. Who says to Meg Murry: “Think of all of the miracles, all of the decisions, all of the luck that happened to make you and set you in the world.”
What are the odds… a billion to one? A trillion to one? No… you were 100% guaranteed; only one miracle needed; only one decision made; no luck required. God’s intention was that you would be you. You are neither a Beechnut nor a Poplar. You were a 100% guaranteed. Your life, your skills, your context, your gifts, in this city, maybe even in this church right now…you were made for purpose.
The Bible is the story of this purpose unfolding; arching from a garden, through disenfranchisement, to divine friendship, ending at a time yet to be determined, at the place where heaven and earth become one, and humanity is at home with God: and death will be no more, and mourning will be no more, and God will wipe away every tear…
But before we arrive there, the text tells us, we must heal the nations. That is a quote from the book of Revelations, near the end, chapter 22, verse. To my mind, it sums up the point of the religion we practice and, I pray, the point of all life itself.
We are here for the healing of the nations. And that begins with our own health and wholeness and setting our life in the contexts of God’s divine purpose.
Over the past few weeks I have heard many stories. I have heard people wonder about their own stories and why these stories continue to cause so much pain…even after years; even after decades. I have seen their pain triggered as boxes so carefully packed away are pried open, unintentionally, by the stories of others.
The “why” of these painful experiences fall into the category of accident, and the category of evil, and the category of unexplainable. But, whatever the crime that inflicted the wounds, the wounds themselves are what qualifies us to participate in the healing of the nations. And so, as we know, that makes us all qualified in some way to do this work.
Remember what the prophet Isaiah said: “The Lord created you and formed you, so: ‘Fear not,’ says God, ‘for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” (Isa 43:1)
I was talking with a friend the other day about the re-traumatization caused by retelling stories, and her insight was illuminating. She said, “If these painful stories are about us, and who we are, and our lives, then their meaning, mostly likely will be inexplicable. But if these stories are buried in the life of God then our brokenness becomes the fuel that allows us to forge ahead, and thrive, and have impact toward the healing of the nations.”
It wasn’t Nelson Mandela’s privilege and posh life that changed South Africa, it was his pain. It was his cracks that allowed the light to shine through.
To just retell the story of assault and violence is difficult and pain, and it can return us to the random, or the evil, or the unexplainable, and we have nowhere to go… again. Which is why, sometimes, just telling the story is more painful than keeping it locked up inside.
But whether we tell the story, or keep it gently sequestered away, the story, the experience, can still be given over to God. All of our life can be held within the context of the Kingdom of God, and be used for the redemption of the world.
That doesn’t mean we’ll act like Nelson Mandela; but it does mean that if we bury our story in the love of God, in God’s time and in God’s way, grace and redemption will blossom. Mandela sat in prison for 27 years, never imagining that his pain would be used for the transformation of South Africa; but that is how God works…God makes meaning, in God’s way, even beyond our minds’ capacity to understand. God will use our life, all of our life, toward the healing of the nations.
You were made for purpose; God will not drop the ball. And while we probably won’t live to see the dots connected between the light that shows through the cracks in our lives and the healing of the nations,we can still know a lightness of being by putting our lives, our stories, into the context of God’s greater love, and God’s eternal purpose.
One way that can happen is through the structured power of liturgy. On October 14th, next Sunday at 5 pm, we will have a service of Reflection and Healing. This is a beginning. This is the start of this parish’s greater efforts towards being a place of Reflection and Healing around the long, painful history of humanity’s inhumanity towards itself. Included in this service will be private stations where people can be prayed over, and where they can tell their stories if they so choose. No one else’s stories will be told in the service, but space will be made to pray, and reach toward God, and to hear the voice of our creator and redeemer echoing the words of Isaiah in our souls: “The Lord created you and formed you: ‘So fear not,’ says God, ‘for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” (Isa 43:1)
You were made for God’s purpose; for health and wholeness; and for the healing of the nations.